Book Review: Letters to Malcolm by C.S. Lewis

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Letters to Malcolm – C.S. Lewis (Mariner Books, 2012)

While I didn’t find this to be Lewis’ most compelling or convicting book, I think there’s still a lot of good stuff here.

It’s no secret I’m a major C.S. Lewis fan. As well as enjoying his novels, he’s one of my favourite Christian thinkers and he’s had a major influence on my faith. In Letters to Malcolm, Lewis writes a series of letters, “chiefly on prayer”, to his friend, Malcolm. (Maybe you guessed all that from the title?)

Malcolm is, in fact, an imaginary friend. When I first discovered these letters to be fictional (and Lewis goes as far as creating an imaginary family with imaginary problems for Malcolm), I thought it was a strange idea and wondered why Lewis didn’t simply write a book about prayer if that was his goal. But on further thought, I think the idea of letters to a friend enables Lewis to talk about prayer and, more importantly, his own prayer life, in a very personal and intimate manner. This is Lewis as he would discuss life and religion with a close friend. This is Lewis who has recently lost his wife. He’s not lecturing or teaching, he’s asking questions and sharing thoughts.

We shrink from too naked a contact, because we are afraid of the divine demands upon us which it might make too audible.

In the end, that’s what I appreciated most about the book. Close to the end of the book, he writes about experiencing a continued reluctance to pray, even when one knows from personal experience how good and important it is. My reaction was something along the lines of, “Oh thank goodness, even C.S. Lewis feels that way.”

Here’s what he has to say:

Well, let’s now at any rate come clean. Prayer is irksome. An excuse to omit it is never unwelcome. When it is over, this casts a feeling of relief and holiday over the rest of the day. We are reluctant to begin. We are delighted to finish. While we are at prayer, but not while we are reading a novel or solving a cross-word puzzle, any trifle is enough to distract us.

Lewis certainly doesn’t excuse such behaviour or feelings but he acknowledges it – something that too often we as Christians are too embarrassed to admit.The book deals with much more than this – Lewis covers a fair amount of ground regarding prayer in just over 100 pages – but, in the end, for me, this was the major appeal of the novel. A look into the mind and heart of a man I greatly respect and the chance to say, “Me too, Jack. What can I do about it? What did you do?”

We are always completely, and therefore equally, known to God. That is our destiny whether we like it or not.

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